In a major overhaul to the current sick note system, the UK government plans to introduce a new NHS algorithm that will enable patients to self-issue sick notes, in an effort to reduce the workload of GPs.

The move is part of broader efforts by the government to reform the sick note system, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to not only ease the burden on GPs but also end Britain’s “sick note culture”.

“We need to change the sick note culture so the default becomes what work can you do – not what you can’t,” Sunak declared during a speech given on 19 April.

Under the proposed reform, individuals would have the option to use an online triage service, accessible through a website or app, as the first point of contact for obtaining a sick note.

Users would be able to receive tailored support based on the severity of their condition, once they had inputted their symptoms to the triage service. It means that those presenting with common infections or minor injuries would automatically receive a sick note without the need for a doctor’s appointment, allowing for a better allocation of resources. Patients with more complex needs would have access to more intensive assistance.

Under the new system it is anticipated that the triage process would be streamlined, helping to reduce administrative burdens, while ensuring patients receive the help and support they need.

However, detractors have flagged concerns about the potential for misuse of the system and are calling for thorough testing and monitoring to avoid the problem.

Pilots testing out the new triage services are already underway, working out how to support people in the process of obtaining a sick note, in a way that suits both their health and employment needs.

Last year saw 11 million sick notes issued, according to NHS data, with a staggering 94% of those signing off patients as note fit for work. During the Covid pandemic, Sunak – the then-Chancellor – announced a £30 billion package to support the NHS, which included the automation of sick notes for patients who needed to self-isolate.